Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Some more news coverage of the GM Bellwethers and the allegations made against the lead lawyer.
An interview with Robert Hilliard can be found here: Amanda Bronstad, Plaintiffs Lawyer Hilliard Saw No Red Flags in Case, National Law Journal, Feb. 1, 2016.
Amanda Bronstad, Lawyer Claims GM Bellwether Counsel Cut Sweetheart Deal with Automaker, National Law Journal, Jan. 28, 2016.
Sara Ranzaddo & Mike Spector, GM, Plaintiffs Lawyers Dispute Misconduct Allegations in Ignition Switch Cases, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 2, 2016.
Friday, January 29, 2016
There's obviously been a lot in the news about multidistrict litigation--from Lance Cooper's allegations in GM to the recent selection of the plaintiffs' leadership slate in VW. But what do we really know about the settlements that come out of those large MDLs? On one hand, the answer is not much. Many of the deals are secret because they are private. But sometimes those private deals are nevertheless publicly available. And when they are, we read them. And analyze them.
The results can be a little disturbing. Given all of the hubbub over Cooper's allegations in GM (see Lahav's post), my co-author Margaret Williams and I decided to go ahead and release the findings of our recent study, Repeat Players in Multidistrict Litigation: The Social Network, on SSRN.
While past studies have considered repeat play on the plaintiffs’ side, this study is the first comprehensive empirical investigation of repeat play on both sides. It won't surprise most readers to learn that we found robust evidence of repeat play among both plaintiff and defense attorneys. What may be more interesting is that we used social-network analysis to demonstrate that a cohesive multidistrict-litigation leadership network exists, which connects people, law firms, and the proceedings themselves.
While repeat play may not be surprising for those in the know, the fact that repeat players exist matters considerably. Lead lawyers control the litigation, dominate negotiations, and design settlements.
To consider repeat players’ influence, we examined the publicly available nonclass settlements these attorneys negotiated, looking for provisions that one might argue principally benefit the attorneys, and not one-shot plaintiffs. By conditioning the deal on achieving a certain claimant-participation rate and shifting the deal-making entities from plaintiffs and defendants to lead lawyers and defendants, repeat players tied all plaintiffs’ attorneys’ financial interests to defendants’ ability to achieve closure.
Over a 22-year span, we were unable to find any publicly available nonclass settlement that didn’t feature at least one closure provision (which benefits the defendant), and likewise found that nearly all settlements contained some provision that increased lead lawyers’ fees. Based on the limited settlements available to us, we found reason to be concerned that when repeat players influence the practices and norms that govern multidistrict proceedings—when they “play for rules,” so to speak—the practices they develop may principally benefit them at the expense of one-shot plaintiffs.
Of course, our research doesn't speak directly to the allegations in GM, but it does make those allegations far less surprising. And if you compare our list of repeat players to the names of those appointed in Volkswagen, you'll see a lot of familiar names.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
The first GM Ignition Switch Bellwether trial is going forward now. Below are some links to media coverage:
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Amanda Bronstad at the National Law Journal recently published an article titled Good Ol' Boys Clubs in MDL that includes a list of law firms that I recently identified as firms with the most lawyers appointed to leadership positions in products liability MDLs. Given the title of her piece, I thought readers might also be interested in the gender breakdown of lead lawyers in those multidistrict litigation cases. Of the top fifty lawyers who were appointed most frequently, only 11 of the 50, or approximately 22% were female. The full list of those attorneys is available in Judging Multidistrict Litigation, 90 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 71, 139-40 (2015) (gender breakdowns are mentioned in footnoted 102).
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Harvard Business Review has a an article, What VW Didn't Understand About Trust, by Andrew Wilson. As perhaps occurred in the Toyota Unintended Acceleration Litigation, VW may be motivated to settle somewhat swiftly any civil litigation or regulatory or criminal inquiries and fines, as part of a larger strategy to regain the public's trust and preserve its brand.
Friday, May 8, 2015
I want to point out an interesting article by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker that looks back at the litigation surrounding the Ford Pinto case. Although the article talks about the criminal prosecution and some of the legal issues briefly, it focuses on the engineers in the case and their ex ante decisions to issue recalls. In my view, the ex ante decisions of engineers, and their inherent difficulty, do not get nearly enough attention in the media, even though the defendant's liability in mass tort cases always hinges on these decisions. A good read overall.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
There's been a lot of chatter over the past few years about the greater use of issue classes. The Rule 23 Subcommittee in its recent report (p. 41) indicated that issue classes top its agenda for possible reform and there's been a greater willingness to rely on Rule 23(c)(4) among the circuit courts over the last few years. Much of the scholarship on issue classes thus far, however, has focused on how to use issue classes in conjunction with Rule 23(b)(3)'s predominance requirement. Professor Laura Hines (Kansas) has, for instance, written a series of articles on the topic and there have been several debates in symposium pages, such as DePaul's 2013 symposium.
Whatever side of the debate one adheres to on the to-be-or-not-to-be question, the courts are embracing issue classes. Thus, there remains much work to be done on discerning which issues should qualify for certification, how to think about Seventh Amendment Reexamination Clause questions, and how to compensate plaintiffs' attorneys who initiate issue classes.
I've recently written a paper on issue classes that takes some steps toward fleshing out these problems. The paper is long since it's meant to be a one-stop shop for judges and attorneys on the subject, but here are the critical points worth underscoring:
First, one of the main difficulties of our system is that the focus in massive lawsuits has shifted to the ways in which the plaintiffs are dissimilarly situated, even when the defendant's conduct is uniform. Take the GM ignition switch debacle or the Toyota acceleration cases, for example. Corporate actions are nonindividuated; it doesn't make sense to litigate what GM or Toyota did in 40,000 different cases. (Draft pp 5-8) But defendants have successfully shifted the procedural focus to how their behavior affected claimants, which tends to defeat class certification because common questions do not predominate over individual ones. The issue class has the potential to recapture what is common to the plaintiffs: defendant's conduct--at least so long as that conduct is nonindividuated. One can capture this notion by divvying up the legal elements in any claim or defense as "conduct components," which concern the defendant's conduct, or "eligibility components," which concern a plaintiff's eligibility for relief. (Draft pp 15-29)
Second, by embracing the standard suggested by the ALI's Principles of the Law of Aggregate Litigation, courts can ease the supposed tension (to the extent any remains) between Rule 23(c)(4) and Rule 23(b)(3). (Draft pp 31-32) Courts should certify issue classes where resolving the issue would "materially advance the resolution of multiple civil claims by addressing the core of the dispute in a manner superior to other realistic procedural alternatives, so as to generate significant judicial efficiencies." (Principles, 2.02(a)(1), 2.02 cmt. a, 2.08, 2.08 cmt. a) Predominance is embedded in the "materially advance" language and superiority is included as a condition that certifying the issue would be "superior to other realistic alternatives" such that it "generate[s] significant judicial efficiencies." Moreover, the courts themselves seem to have reached a general consensus on this matter, with even the Fifth Circuit embracing issue classes in In re Deepwater Horizon, 739 F.3d 790, 804 (5th Cir. 2014). (Draft p. 30)
Third, courts must figure out a way to compensate (and thus incentivize) plaintiffs' attorneys. This is perhaps the trickiest part because of both the lack precedent and doctrinal hurdles such as Lexecon. Lexecon presents a special challenge in multidistrict litigation cases where issue classes might prove most useful. Nevertheless, one need not invent a theory out of whole cloth. Charging liens and the common-benefit doctrine provide sound analogies for fashioning a coherent path forward. (Draft pp 42-50)
Finally, there are some hurdles to making issue classes stick, such as preclusion doctrines, adequate representation, and the Seventh Amendment Reexamination Clause. Thus, the paper concludes by suggesting solutions to these problems and arguing that preclusion can provide a way to coordinate dispersed public and private regulators.
As always, comments are welcome (eburch at uga.edu).
April 30, 2015 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Class Actions, Current Affairs, Lawyers, Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure, Products Liability, Tobacco, Vioxx | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, November 3, 2014
A recent article by Jessica Dye (Thomson Reuters) describes the procedure adopted by Judge Goodwin (U.S.D. So. Dist. W. Va).
While Goodwin originally scheduled a series of single-plaintiff bellwether, or test, trials for the federal litigation, he scrapped those plans earlier this year and instead consolidated claims from multiple women into a single trial. Doing so, he said, would help save courts' time and resources, and "may facilitate settlement" by giving Boston Scientific and plaintiffs a clearer picture of the strengths and weaknesses of their cases.
You can find the article here. I would love to know how Judge Goodwin is picking the plaintiffs and locations to go forward and what coordination is happening with state courts.
Friday, October 31, 2014
The Ohio jury's verdict yesterday was in favor of the defendant, Whirlpool, in the moldy washing machine issue class action. BNA has the report.
In re Whirlpool Corp. Front-Loading Washer Prods. Liab. Litig. (Glazer v. Whirlpool Corp.), N.D. Ohio, No. 08-65001, verdict10/30/14
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Joe Nocera has a short opinion piece on Ken Feinberg and his work in progress - the GM claims fund. You can find the piece here. The question for Feinberg is always - is this replicable? The answer depends on the company's tolerance for risk and desire for atonement.
The New York Times' Danielle Ivory also covered the new fund here, explaining how the fund works.
I also recommend the Valukas report on GM. My favorite part is his description of the "GM nod." Everyone at a meeting nods their head to a plan, nobody actually does anything to move it forward.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Plaintiffs' attorneys huddled in Chicago on Wednesday to strategize about where to ask the MDL Panel to send the GM ignition switch cases. As usual, there are several things that will influence plaintffs' attorneys' pick.
According to this morning's article in the WSJ, Elizabeth Cabraser called the litigation "a perfect storm for a class action." Maybe. But that will largely depend on which circuit and which judge hears the case, how GM's bankruptcy affects the pending claims, and whether attorneys forgo personal injury claims (they will likely be excluded in the class definition) to pursue product liability and economic injuries.
Choice of procedural law, like how to apply Rule 23, can vary. Under Chan v. Korean Airlines, Ltd. (D.C. Cir. 1989), the Van Dusen doctrine, which holds that transferee courts must apply the choice of law interpretation of the transferor circuit, may not apply to 1407 transfers. Rather, when it comes to procedural and other federal law matters, Korean Airlines suggests that transferee courts are obligated to follow their own interpretation of the relevant law. Several circuits follow this rationale including the Second, Eighth, Ninth, and Eleventh. Other circuits, including most notably, the Seventh, have held that a transferee court should use transferor court's interpretation of federal law.
According to Bloomberg, several plaintiffs' attorneys are pushing for a California venue before Judge James Selna, who is currently handling the Toyota acceleration MDL. This strategy makes sense on several fronts. The Ninth Circuit, which originally upheld (in part) the certification in Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., has shown a willingness to resolve aggregate cases through class actions. And given that courts in the Ninth Circuit apply their own procedural law where circuit splits are concerned, this could further help plaintiffs. Finally, Judge Selna, who certified an economic loss settlement class action in the Toyota litigation, is a logical choice.
But other plaintiffs' attorneys (and of couse GM) have other ideas about where the MDL should land. Bloomberg reports:
Other plaintiffs want the cases to be heard in Chicago, Miami or Corpus Christi,Texas, where they have sued. GM wants the cases consolidated in the federal court in Manhattan, about a mile from where a prior incarnation of the company filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Company lawyers say proximity to the bankruptcy court trumps Selna’s experience.
While the Panel considers the forum requests by the parties, it is in no way limited to those venues. There are several factors that it typically cites in favor of forum selection such as the location of discovery materials, convenience of the witnesses, location of grand jury proceedings, possibility of coordination with related state-court proceedings, where the majority of cases are located, knowledge of the transferee judge, and the willingness and motivation of a particular judge to handle an MDL docket. Of these factors, the transferee judge is by far the most important. The Panel tends to look for judges who have handled MDLs successfully in the past. And, for better or worse, "successful" means quick settlement (see here, p. 11-12 for more).
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigaiton is comprised of seven judges from around the country. Judge David Proctor is the Panel's newest edition and was added just this year to replace Judge Paul Barbadoro.
For more on the process that will--and should--unfold once a transferee judge is appointed and how those judges should go about appointing lead lawyers, see here.
Friday, May 16, 2014
I posted a new article to SSRN this morning that's been a labor of love for well over a year now. I'm excited about this new piece for a few reasons.
First, it debuts an original data set of all lead lawyers appointed in 72 product liability and sales practices MDLs that were pending as of May 14, 2013. As such, it's the only paper (that I know of) that includes empirical evidence on plaintiffs-side repeat players appointed to leadership positions. (Yes, it includes a list of some of the most entrenched repeat lawyers and law firms as an appendix.) (If this is of interest, have a look at Margaret Williams, Emery Lee, and Catherine Borden's recently published paper in the Journal of Tort Law titled Repeat Players in Federal Multidistrict Litigation, which looks at all plaintiffs' attorneys in MDLs using social network analysis.)
I also explain why appointing a leadership group comprised of predominately repeat players can cause inadequate representation problems. For example, repeat players playing the long game have rational, economic incentives to curry favor with one another, protect their reputations, and develop reciprocal relationships to form funding coalitions and receive client referrals. As such, extra-legal, interpersonal, and business concerns may govern their interactions and trump their agency obligations to uniquely situated clients who could threaten to bust a multi-million dollar deal. Non-conforming lawyers may be ostracized and informally sanctioned, which promotes cooperation, but deters dissent and vigorous representation. Over time, expressing contrary opinions could brand the dissenting lawyer a defector, which could decrease lucrative leadership opportunities. (Other reasons abound, which I explain on pages 25-27 of the paper.)
Second, it provides some much needed guidance for transferee judges. Although the Manual for Complex Litigation remains the go-to guide for transferee judges, it hasn't been updated in 10 years. So much has changed since the fourth edition was published in 2004. Accordingly, in "Judging Multidistrict Litigation," I suggest best practices for appointing and compensating lead lawyers. Judges can compensate lead lawyers on a coherent and more predictable basis by distilling current theories down to their common denominator: quantum meruit. Quantum-meruit awards would align fees with other attorney-fee decisions and compensate leaders based on the value they actually add.
Third, as anyone familiar with the area knows, settlement review in nonclass litigation is controversial at best. After judges expressly deny class certification they then harken back to Rule 23 and their "inherent equitable authority" to comment on settlements. So, employing a quantum-meruit theory for awarding lead lawyers' attorneys' fees would give judges a legitimate private-law basis for scrutinizing settlements. Because courts must evaluate the case's success to determine how much compensation is merited, it could likewise help stymie a trend toward self-dealing where repeat players insert fee provisions into master settlements and require plaintiffs and their attorneys to "consent" to fee increases to obtain settlement awards.
The article is forthcoming in N.Y.U. Law Review in April of 2015, so I still have a bit of time to tinker with it and welcome comments in the interim (eburch at uga.edu). In the meantime, here's the formal SSRN abstract.
High-stakes multidistrict litigations saddle the transferee judges who manage them with an odd juxtaposition of power and impotence. On one hand, judges appoint and compensate lead lawyers (who effectively replace parties’ chosen counsel) and promote settlement with scant appellate scrutiny or legislative oversight. But on the other, without the arsenal class certification once afforded, judges are relatively powerless to police the private settlements they encourage. Of course, this power shortage is of little concern since parties consent to settle.
Or do they? Contrary to conventional wisdom, this Article introduces new empirical data revealing that judges appoint an overwhelming number of repeat players to leadership positions, which may complicate genuine consent through inadequate representation. Repeat players’ financial, reputational, and reciprocity concerns can govern their interactions with one another and opposing counsel, often trumping fidelity to their clients. Systemic pathologies can result: dictatorial attorney hierarchies that fail to adequately represent the spectrum of claimants’ diverse interests, repeat players trading in influence to increase their fees, collusive private deals that lack a viable monitor, and malleable procedural norms that undermine predictability.
Current judicial practices feed these pathologies. First, when judges appoint lead lawyers early in the litigation based on cooperative tendencies, experience, and financial resources, they often select repeat players. But most conflicts do not arise until discovery and repeat players have few self-interested reasons to dissent or derail the lucrative settlements they negotiate. Second, because steering committees are a relatively new phenomenon and transferee judges have no formal powers beyond those in the Federal Rules, judges have pieced together various doctrines to justify compensating lead lawyers. The erratic fee awards that result lack coherent limits. So, judges then permit lead lawyers to circumvent their rulings and the doctrinal inconsistencies by contracting with the defendant to embed fee provisions in global settlements—a well recognized form of self-dealing. Yet, when those settlements ignite concern, judges lack the formal tools to review them.
These pathologies need not persist. Appointing cognitively diverse attorneys who represent heterogeneous clients, permitting third-party financing, encouraging objections and dissent from non-lead counsel, and selecting permanent leadership after conflicts develop can expand the pool of qualified applicants and promote adequate representation. Compensating these lead lawyers on a quantum-meruit basis could then smooth doctrinal inconsistencies, align these fee awards with other attorneys’ fees, and impose dependable outer limits. Finally, because quantum meruit demands that judges assess the benefit lead lawyers’ conferred on the plaintiffs and the results they achieved, it equips judges with a private-law basis for assessing nonclass settlements and harnesses their review to a very powerful carrot: attorneys’ fees.
May 16, 2014 in Aggregate Litigation Procedures, Class Actions, Ethics, Informal Aggregation, Lawyers, Mass Tort Scholarship, Procedure, Products Liability, Settlement, Vioxx, Zyprexa | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, March 23, 2014
I'm serving as Co-Director of Southwestern Law School's 2014 Vancouver Summer Law Program, which is offered in collaboration with the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law and the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy. All classes will take place at the University of British Columbia's new Allard Hall, which was completed in 2011 at a cost of $56 million. On-campus housing at St. Andrew's Hall next to the law school may also be arranged through the summer law program. The program will run from May 25 to June 25, 2014. Here is the brochure.
One of the courses offered will be a course on Global Tort Litigation, which I'll be co-teaching with Professor Jasminka Kalajdzic of the University of Windsor. Other courses include comparative criminal procedure, international environmental law, and comparative sexual orientation law; students may elect to take two courses for four units, or three courses for six units.
We welcome applications from students in good standing at an ABA-approved or state-accredited American law school or accredited Canadian law school. Special reduced tuition rates are available for Canadian law students. Come join us in beautiful Vancouver, Canada!
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Hilary Stout of the New York Times reports in a piece today called "Lawyers Prepare for GM Suits with Novel Strategies." The issue may be not just products liability, but fraud in the working out of the GM Bankruptcy.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
The Wall Street Journal has an article on the ongoing asbestos cleanup by W.R. Grace in Libby, Montana: In Montana Town, a Shut Mine Leaves an Open Wound, by Dionne Searcey. The Journali also has a related slideshow. The cost of the cleanup has so far been approximately $400 million.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Johnson & Johnson has agreed to terms for settling hip implant claims, according to multiple news reports. The New York Times article reports that under the agreement, J&J "will pay some $2.475 billion in compensation to an estimated 8,000 patients who have been forced to have the all-metal artificial hip removed and replaced with another device." The article states that a typical claimant settlement, before legal fees, would be about $250,000 plus all medical costs. The article also states that the deal requires the participation of 94 percent of eligible claimants.
The lawsuits addressed by this settlement involve the Articular Surface Replacement, or A.S.R., a product of the DePuy Orthopaedics division of J&J. A couple of news sources reported a settlement of this litigation six days ago but without confirmation from defendants or plaintiffs. Today's reports come on the heels of a hearing in the multidistrict litigation (MDL 2197) before Judge David Katz in the Northern District of Ohio.
Update: For DePuy's and J&J's press release about the settlement program, see here and here. For the settlement website, see here. For an overview of the settlement terms, including settlement eligibility, settlement amounts, and deadlines, see here.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
The New York Times and Bloomberg are reporting that Johnson & Johnson has agreed to settlement terms to resolve thousands of DePuy metal hip implant claims. According to the Bloomberg article, J&J Said to Reach $4 Billion Deal to Settle Hip Lawsuits, and the New York Times article, Johnson & Johnson Said to Agree to $4 Billion Settlement Over Hip Implants, the deal would provide about $300,000 to $350,000 in compensation for each claimant who underwent surgery to replace the DePuy hip implant, which could be as many as 8000 cases. The amount for each claimant would depend on age, medical condition, and other factors. According to the articles, the settlement has not been formally announced.
The Depuy hip implant cases are pending in Multidistrict Litigation (MDL 2197) before Judge David Katz in the Northern District of Ohio, as well as in state courts in Ohio, California, and New Jersey. Two cases have gone to trial, with one plaintiff victory and one for the defense. Seven more trials are scheduled. This would be the largest settlement ever for medical device litigation, and one of the largest mass tort settlements.
Update: See here for Nov. 19 info.
Friday, October 25, 2013
According to the New York Times, the jury had also determined that Toyota had acted with "reckless disregard" and was about to begin deliberations on punitive damages when the settlement was announced. The New York Times article also appropriately emphasizes that the case is noteworthy because plaintiffs' tried their claims of electronic throttle control problems.
Though the New York Times article notes the ages of the plaintiff driver was 82 (the Los Angeles Times says she was 76), the New York Times article does not note that there have been in the past been particular concerns of pedal misapplication by older drivers, and the article does not reference a government report that found no problems in Toyota's electronic throttle control system. According to CNNMoney, Toyota apparently argued that the plaintiff in Oklahoma case hit the gas, rather than the brake. In response, plaintiffs pointed to long skid marks on the road, suggesting the driver was hitting the brake. One wonders if the event data recorder in this car might have shed more light on the issue. Toyota would certainly want to avoid having juries deciding unintended acceleration cases based on the believability of the testimony of a driver who claims to have hit the brake, rather than the accelerator. If Toyota is unable to exclude plaintiffs' proferred expert testimony of electronic throttle control defect on the grounds that such testimony is not scientifically reliable, then Toyota should also be concerned that the jury may be unable to grasp the arcane details of software code design. I'm reminded of the line by Robert Duvall's character in the film, A Civil Action, depicting the Woburn water contamination case; waiting for a jury decision, his character opines, "[I]t's not going to have anything to do with dates or groundwater measurements or any of that crap, which nobody can understand anyway. It's going to come down to people like it always does."